Until now, finding sales opportunities has been hit or miss. Sales organizations compiled account lists, made large volumes of cold calls and occasionally got lucky. CRM and sales force automation solutions provided some productivity gains, but the extra data entry steps they impose takes time away from customer engagements.
CRM and SFA systems are effective in streamlining areas such as pipeline management, the tracking, coordination and administration side of the sales function. But in the end, these systems have not fundamentally changed the sales equation to make sales representatives more efficient and effective.
First-generation sales intelligence and lead qualification tools looked promising, but they tend to deliver too much irrelevant information. Even a highly trained web researcher may need an hour or more just to research a single company. That time sink is unacceptable to sales professionals with hundreds of prospects to pursue in a relatively short “make contact” time frame. Furthermore, many of these tools, which take advantage of Web 2.0 social networking to generate contact databases, tend to lack data accuracy, so “intelligence” could be a misnomer.
My company does business in a new category of sales technology called opportunity intelligence that enables “smart sales.” Opportunity intelligence applies recent advances in information aggregation, search and analysis to automate the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of the sales process: informing sales representatives when and where new opportunities arise, whom to call and why. Opportunity intelligence eliminates days of unfocused research, fruitless cold calls and missed opportunities, enabling sales professionals to go straight to engagements and do what they do best: sell.
Opportunity intelligence solutions filter through large quantities of company, market and personnel data, business news, financial filings and other sources, employing techniques, such as natural language processing and semantic analysis to extract meaning from the data. They, then, assess relevance, applying algorithms tuned by expert industry knowledge, and present highly selective results that precisely identify top selling opportunities.
‘The sheer quantity of outbound calls yielded less than a 1 percent closure rate on deals.’
Sales professionals set industry- and application-specific selling triggers to detect sales opportunities such as target companies for leadership changes, new product offerings, acquisitions, expanding operations and positive or negative financial results—or other criteria. When an opportunity intelligence solution detects relevant opportunities and company activity, it notifies the sales rep in real time.
A leader in management systems, for example, is currently using opportunity intelligence for both sales prospecting and client management. The business development team is small but has worldwide responsibility. Previously, daily research and mining to identify connections to prospects was time consuming and yielded poor results. Every day, each sales rep made 40 or more outbound calls to a list of companies based on market sector, size and general fit for the solution. The sheer quantity of outbound calls yielded less than a 1 percent closure rate on deals.
Degrees of separation
Today, with opportunity intelligence, team members receive real-time information on the latest activities in the key areas of new business opportunity, also securing information on how many degrees they are separated from executives at prospect and client organizations. In one recent case, a rep received an opportunity alert from an enterprise target account detailing a leadership change and information about the executive’s proven track record of operational successes. The rep leveraged company connections to engage with the recently hired executive, quickly acting on the lead and converting a potential target into a qualified account.
The potential of opportunity intelligence is significant. A leading Fortune 500 vendor of computer security software engaged my company in a pilot to determine ROI based on services estimates with opportunity intelligence. The results of the pilot study showed that the company could save nearly 24,000 hours of research time across a pilot team of 105 sales representatives over the next year, increasing sales by $16 million in just four quarters. That’s because, with opportunity intelligence, a sales rep no longer needs to go to five or more different sites to stay informed about targets. The technology provides a single, consolidated view of all target accounts.
Furthermore, a rep is able to prioritize targets in real time because the technology scans the ocean of available data and boils the information down to key “sales triggers” that indicate what’s occurring in a target company that may motivate a prospect to buy and a good reason for the rep to call. And opportunity intelligence quickly identifies connections among targets based on a sales rep’s background and reference customers.
Opportunity intelligences is a dramatic departure from past sales solutions. It automates intelligence to solve the strategic challenges of sales versus automating only administrative and procedural functions. Several entrants to the sales enablement marketplace have offerings that begin to address difficult sales issues, such as time management, account ranking and process effectiveness. However, none of these have the completeness of opportunity intelligence to alert sales reps to opportunities, identify connections to prospects and provide precise information to engage. I particularly see this need in the midmarket and enterprise B2B technology sector, where consultative selling is a component of the overall sales process.
At DigitalThink, the company I previously cofounded, we hired and fired sales leaders and selling teams based on the belief that sales administrations were not performing. In fact, these sales leaders and sales reps were working against all odds to make deals happen without opportunity intelligence to help them. Sales organizations play a critical role in every company’s success, yet sales reps are the least equipped to strategically approach the selling process. Sales teams lack proper techniques and, more importantly, scalable tools to effectively and efficiently drive sales success. I saw enormous potential in opportunity intelligence technology. That’s why I formed my new company around it.
Opportunity Intelligence works because it changes the rules of engagement. In today’s highly competitive and fast-paced market place, nothing short of that will do.